Martha J. Lee

Date of Award

Spring 2019

Document Type

Open Access Dissertation


English Language and Literatures

First Advisor

Ed Madden


In this dissertation, I trace the use of the mythic Irish hero Cuchulain by early Irish nationalists. From 1878 to 1939, Standish James O’Grady, Lady Augusta Gregory, and William Butler Yeats employed this figure for specific political and cultural agendas. Cuchulain makes a fitting symbol for the “poet warrior” stereotype that was purposely and incidentally cultivated during the cultural nationalist phase of the Irish Literary Revival, when writers were beginning to explore the Cuchulain myth to demonstrate cultural and linguistic ideals. Nationalists found in Cuchulain a symbol that could tie the cultural to the political and the political to the martial. O’Grady’s motive for writing about the hero was to demonstrate cultural appreciation, but Gregory saw political possibilities as she tactically employed Cuchulain as a challenge to British scholars who were dismissive of Irish cultural heritage. Yeats’s Cuchulain poems and plays span his entire career and mirror his own fluctuating feelings about the Irish Nationalist discourse.

This study will add to our understanding of the mythological images in Irish literature, culture, and politics, particularly that of Cuchulain. I examine the texts primarily through postcolonial and nationalist lenses to address the political and social agendas of the authors. As members of the Anglo-Irish class, my three primary authors had different and complicated ideas about Irish identity, which I connect to the postcolonial theory of Declan Kiberd, Gregory Castle, and David Lloyd, who explore the hybrid and complicated forms of Irish and Anglo-Irish identity. I also apply Joep Leerssen’s concepts in imagology, the study of national stereotypes and how they emerge in order to demonstrate the relation of nationalist agendas to the use of cultural figures. While not a definitive study of all accounts of the Cuchulain myth, this dissertation adds to a growing body of research. Concentrating solely on the use of mythic characters as cultural and political symbols, this study builds on the scholarship of Maria Tymoczko and Ann Dooley and others who examine the cultural and political motives inherent in translation.


© 2019, Martha J. Lee